GILLETTE — May 25 was an exciting day for all students throughout the district: It was the last day of school.
At Lakeview Elementary School, 11 students in fourth through sixth grades ran to each classroom while the rest of the classes were out at recess. They left a little note and Lifesaver candy on each student’s desk.
“We hope you know how important you are to Lakeview,” the note read.
The 11 students are part of the school’s Hope Squad — a group of students selected by their peers to help them through tough times. On May 25, they were making sure everyone felt loved going into their summer vacation.
But before that, they’d worked together to make sure that hope and love was spread even further than their school.
Earlier in the year, the 11 took to paint and canvas. They used art to show what hope meant to each of them.
“Having hope to me means having faith and knowing that good comes after the bad,” Kyleigh Martin said.
Her painting was made up of a dark cloud and lightning on one side, placed next to a rainbow on the other.
“Hope to me is to wish for something either to happen in the future or not to happen,” Luana Da Costa said.
She painted a bright sun shining in a blue sky with a fluttering of clouds about to cross paths.
Carrie Boedeker-Larson and Anna Burbank, the squad’s advisers, worked to gather all of their students’ paintings and sent out a request for other schools to send some more in.
There are now 55 hope-filled canvases attached to an 11-foot long, bright yellow, plywood board. The canvases are placed in a way to spell out the word “Hope” and there also is a QR code on the board where people can watch and listen to a short video of the students defining hope.
On May 25, Matthew Miller from Campbell County Health picked up the lovingly made board. It is now displayed prominently in the hospital’s behavioral health services’ lobby.
“I think it’ll really help the people there,” Jordan Hansen said.
He was living in the final moments of his fourth grade career but was more excited that the hospital would be able to use their sign.
“The yellow shines through all the darkness and all of the other colors,” Ellis Brown said.
With the bright background and even brighter canvases, it is hard not to crack a smile just by looking at it.
The group also said it wants people to have hope because hope can help lengthen everyone’s lives.
All of the students were chosen by their peers because of their kindness, trustworthiness and their desire to help others.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes it’s hard to see their friends and classmates in pain or hurting.
“You think it’s easy when you learn about the things,” Jordan said. “But then you see it in real life and it gets hard.”
The students go through trainings so they’re prepared for the more difficult situations like hearing someone talk about suicide or seeing their friends going through hard times. They’re trained on how to respond to the situation and report it to another person.
“Sometimes people can get too frustrated about things and they can lose hope,” Lillian Pueringer said. “When someone is frustrated with something I say, ‘Repeat after me, I can do this.’”
She laughed as she explained that sometimes she has to have others repeat the phrase multiple times, but by the end, she sees hope.
The student Hope Squads started at Thunder Basin High School about five years ago, said Lori Holmes, the district’s student support services and 504 coordinator.
Since its beginning, the Hope Squad spread throughout the other high schools and trickled down through the junior highs and most of the elementary schools. Almost all of the schools in the district now have the peer-elected program.
Holmes said the program began in Utah where a school was experiencing a suicide nearly every year. After students named three peers who were easy to talk to, kind and non-judgmental, they were trained to help identify suicide warnings and refer adults to those who needed help. For years after the program was put into place, the high school’s suicide rate dropped to zero.
Squad members in Campbell County are trained the same way, always on the lookout for students who don’t know where to go for help.
“They’re a pretty impressive group,” Boedeker-Larson said.
She and Holmes both said that oftentimes, kids are more comfortable talking to others their own age than the adults who always surround them.
“They can have such an impact that I can’t always have,” Boedeker-Larson said. “Some kids may for some reason not want to come speak to me and don’t know what to do and these kids know what to do.”
Although the students admit that sometimes being the one people turn to is stressful, it’s always rewarding and they don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.